by Phil Ware
Names. They get harder and harder to remember the older I get.
Names. They pile up in my digital address books becoming more and more frustrating to keep up to date with their changing addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.
Names. They stack up in my Facebook® and Twitter® and Instagram® “friends” list so badly that I can’t keep up with the latest updates, birthdays, and special events of my closest real-life friends.
Names. In many buildings today, there are lists of names — important donors, elected officials who had a building built on their watch, patrons of non-profit enterprises, and honored alumni.
Names. With every disaster, we see lists of them. We don’t want to grow calloused to their individual tragedies, but how to keep your heart open and fresh to the constant influx of near daily disasters and their lists of names? On top of these lists, there are really bad disasters with the unnamed victims of tragedies with too many causalities to list all the names.
We are swamped with names. Our name fatigue impacts us when we come to certain portions of Scripture. Even the most dedicated Bible readers are tempted to speed read through parts of Numbers, Judges, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. In these books, we find long sections of scripture filled with names. At first glance, these names are just hard to pronounce hurdles to get to the good stuff. We are tempted to skip them. If we are honest, quite often we do skip them!
Tucked away in these biblical lists are treasures. We find ordinary people who did extraordinary things when they were caught up in some heroic or disastrously awful moment. Many of the Bible’s numerous lists of names provide us some of the most precious gems of Scripture. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when we find some treasures buried in several lists of names in Nehemiah when the devastated people of Israel rebuilt the walls of their city under the leadership of Nehemiah in just 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15).
Nehemiah’s triumphant work in doing what others couldn’t do for decades is told very simply and matter-of-factly:
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work (Nehemiah 2:17-18 emphasis added).
The list of names that follow this simple statement provides us a remarkable story of unity, perseverance, faith, and leadership (Nehemiah 3:1-32). Person after person, family after family, priest and pauper, man and woman, parent and child, all followed Nehemiah into the hard work of rebuilding a wall out of piles of rubble. Before long, their arduous work could be summarized with these simple words:
So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart (Nehemiah 4:6 emphasis added).
More than a list of names, Nehemiah gave us the people behind the blood, sweat, and tears it took to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. These people worked night and day under constant threat of attack, working with one hand and holding a weapon in the other (Nehemiah 4:16-23). Plot after plot to stop them was derailed by Nehemiah’s faithful leadership and their faithful work. In a beautiful summary of their conviction and dedication, we find these words:
When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work (Nehemiah 4:15).
Finally, all these “names” pushed forward to accomplish their herculean task described by these words:
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.
When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God (Nehemiah 6:15-16).
Incredible! Nehemiah, a wine taster for the King of Persia went home to Israel and led God’s people to do what they couldn’t do for over a hundred years. How? What was his special secret?
Each person did his or her work. The same principle behind what enables God’s family today to do great things and function as the bodily presence of Jesus. The secret is not a great pastor, minister, or teacher. As in Nehemiah’s day, the success of God’s work depended upon leaders calling and equipping God’s people to serve “as each part does its work”! Regular folks doing God’s work and not caring who gets the credit just as long as God is honored and Jesus’ work is continued.
Jesus promised that if we would allow him to be the head of his church and look to him for power and guidance, we would do even greater things than he did (John 14:12). For that to happen, each part must do its work. Then, more than a wall gets built; Jesus becomes real to the lost world in need of grace. Our times of transition become more than treading water time; they become times of preparation, broader involvement, focus on mission, and involvement in the work of God:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. …speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:11-16 emphasis added).